Dear Mary Pat,
My ex-husband and I split custody of our two middle school children. While we were married, he often accused me of being a “helicopter mom” and said I was too protective. I always thought that he wasn’t cautious enough when it came to our kids, and now because of this virus, I’m really concerned.
In addition to the actual full-time job that I have, I’m also helping with online learning for my kids’ school and constantly making sure that they are washing their hands and not touching their faces. When my ex has them on the weekends, I know that the same level of care isn’t taken.
He’s made it clear that he doesn’t like to be told what to do by the government or by me, and any gentle reminders have fallen on deaf ears. I don’t want to make my children paranoid or turn them against their dad, but how do I get my point across without scaring them?
Dear Worried Mama,
Negotiating co-parenting with an ex-spouse is tricky enough in the best of circumstances. This is certainly a tough situation, and I can see why you’re anxious.
You’re right to not want to turn them against their dad or fill them full of fear. Because they’re a little bit older, you need to tell them that this is a challenging time right now and that we all have to be doing our part to beat this virus. Tell them that they have just as much power as adults to help and that they can really make a difference.
Use positive statements such as, “Let’s remember to always wash our hands before we eat, after we eat and after we’re out in the yard.” You can even come up with a special song that lasts for 20 seconds to help them wash their hands long enough. Staying well rested, eating healthfully and staying hydrated can help fight the virus as well.
Also remind your children that they’re not doing all of this only to keep themselves from getting sick – they’re doing it to help others stay healthy as well. That’s sometimes the best motivation. Also enlist their help around your house with sanitizing surfaces.
All of these habits will hopefully stick, and they can continue with them while they’re staying with your ex-husband. Encourage them to help keep their dad’s home clean as well, but in a subtle way: “Your dad could probably use your help around the house, so be sure to keep up your routines when you’re there, too.”
Keep the lines of communication open as much as you can with your ex-husband and your children. If you feel he’s really putting them in harm’s way with his behavior or lack of taking this seriously, you may want to seek advice from your attorney.